Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law…
a family business, working for his wife’s Dad, and a respected job, unlike the denigrating status to which it would slip by the time of Jesus.
Although requiring long hours and being on constant lookout for four-legged wolves and two legged thieves, it was a time to get away from family pressures, to be free to meditate, to be immersed in God’s creation that would later provide the references for the Book of Psalms filled with prayer-poems and songs, many composed by David, a shepherd destined to be king.
In that setting, Moses found himself being drawn to a rare sight:
a flame of fire out of a bush;… the bush was blazing,
yet it was not consumed.
It was a sight that turned a workplace into a holy place that had him taking off his sandals, not only as a sign of reverence for God, but his intention to put off, to laid aside workday dirt and plans and pressures and cultural and social ties, so God could be near and present, creature in touch with Creator .
For Moses it happened on the mountain associated with one Biblical individual after another: Abraham, Jacob, Aaron, Joshua, Elijah – to name a few. The mount that took on the more prominent name: Sinai, and other obscure names, which are contested, all because the actual site remains a subject for research.
Hebrew scholars overcome the dilemma by saying Moses’ Mount Horeb was not so much a location as it was a holy day on a movable mountain that remained with him throughout his life; Moses’ place of meeting that happens when we gather to worship God each Sunday and in private, daily devotions, times and places that become our holy day on our movable mountain.
For Moses it was a time to get a new assignment; rather than tending sheep, he was to shepherd his enslaved people into a forty-year long job training program to become God’s flock, with the Ten Commandments received on another climb as their God-given rules for living.
On the Mount named Horeb Moses had a Labor Day holiday that became a holy day to be given a new job that would be much harder than his previous employment, which we, too, may find ourselves facing as we are confronted with an unwelcoming and perhaps seemingly overwhelming task.
It may be as a single parent trying to cope with raising children and earning enough to pay all the bills. Or as a retiree who suddenly is fully employed in caring for a totally dependent spouse. Or as a volunteer who takes on working with troubled youth, providing transportation for a home-bound person, getting involved in a cause that challenges corruption in public life, or accepting the responsibility of cleaning up a polluted stream or waste site; all time consuming and demanding .
There is another assignment given in today’s Gospel that nags at us and hounds us with Christ’s question:
“For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?
Or what will they give in return for their life?”
It’s a question that follows Jesus’ harsh words to Peter’s insistence that Jesus not think about a cross and death, to which Origen, a second-century Christian theologian and preacher in Alexandria gave another perspective. He said Jesus’ “get behind me Satan” should be heard as “Peter, your place is behind me, not in front of me. It’s your job to follow me in the way I choose, not to try to lead me in the way YOU would like me to go.”
The point of Jesus’ Gospel question now addressed to us in this holy place of worship, to which one person confesses, “It will mean putting someone other than yourself first, being concerned not so much with what YOU want, but what God wants for you. It won’t be easy and sometimes it won’t be much fun, but it will never be boring." (Johnny Dean, Life on the Roller Coaster)
When Moses listened to God’s job for him, he tried every way possible to decline, but finally accepted when God said:
“I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you…you shall worship God on this mountain.”-
the assurance that sent Moses into each new day trusting on God to get him through.
Like Moses might you be facing your own unwelcome and perhaps seemingly overwhelming task, which you, like Moses, take on, trusting in God holding up to the offer: "I will be with you” and relying on the strength to come to you in holy moments on God’s mountain of worship?
It was God’s pledge which finally turned Augustine’s life around from all the jobs the world had to offer, some of which sent him off into immoral escapades, some into habits that pulled others down, one was a Christian he had turned away from living a Christ-like life, to finally admitting, “You have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.”
His confession in response to God’s holy day pledge: "I will be with you.”
One of the stories told about Augustine was when he saw one of his former mistresses on the street, he walked away. Surprised by his rebuff, she called out, “Augustine, it is I.” As he kept on going he called back, “Yes, but it is not I.” (Richard J. Fairchild, "In the Way or on the Way")
He had a new Employer to Whom he was committed, drawn and held and sustained by God’s pledge, “I will be with you.”
For Moses a burning bush pulled him away from his everyday work and he found himself in a holy place that stayed with his for the rest of his life.
What still happens in weekly worship and private, daily devotions; times and places that become our holy day on our movable mountain where God never ceases saying, “I will be with you.”